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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe registers for a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination drive-thru clinic at Evraz Place in Regina on April 15, 2021.Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe misunderstands his own health care system.

Miller made the comment on Twitter after Moe blamed Ottawa for Saskatchewan’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate in its far north, which has a predominately Indigenous population.

“Our Far North and Indigenous communities are running at a vaccination rate of less than 50 per cent, an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction,” Moe tweeted Thursday after making similar comments earlier that week during a media scrum.

While mentioning rates in the north, the premier did not include communities in the south, which in some cases have vaccination rates as low as 12 per cent.

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Miller said Moe’s comments are alarming and unproductive.

“Stating that all this work is ‘exclusive’ federal jurisdiction is not only inaccurate, but undermines the spirit of Indigenous self-determination that has guided our co-operative approach and must continue in order to overcome this current wave,” Miller tweeted. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ottawa and Saskatchewan have worked together throughout the pandemic to provide vaccinations in the province’s far north and in remote Indigenous communities, but health-care services are off reserves, which is within provincial jurisdiction.

“The whole idea that First Nations in the north are outside of Saskatchewan jurisdiction – and by jurisdiction I mean their responsibility – is this myth that we are often told in Canadian politics that leads to the continuation of the inequity Indigenous Peoples have had for generations,” said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association.

Lafontaine said Moe’s comments make it difficult for health care workers to do their jobs.

“If you don’t have your leadership pointing to the tools we know work, and emphasizing the need to provide care and take responsibility for the care of everyone within your province, that creates a very challenging situation to actually create any of this effectively,” he said.

Indigenous communities face a unique challenge because of mistrust in a health care system due to forced sterilization of Indigenous women and medical experimentation on children in residential schools, Lafontaine added.

Moe’s comments about jurisdiction don’t help increase vaccination rates, he said.

“You have to have your leader saying things that are factually true, and actually focus on the solutions of the problem, instead of pushing that responsibility somewhere else.”

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